Hello! I want to tell you a bit about myself. My name is Somet and I live in the city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. What city and country do you live in? I work as a professor at Royal University of Phnom Penh and I'm getting my doctorate in sociology. What do you do for a living? And what have you studied? I'm not married and I also don't have a girlfriend. Do you have anyone? My appearance is as you can see in this e-mail. Based on the photo, how old do you think I am, and do you think I'm handsome? Sorry Julie! I'm just kidding. Don't take it the wrong way. But I hope you'll answer the questions I asked above. Julie! Can I ask you some personal questions? How many siblings do you have? Can we meet up in Siem Reap when you visit Cambodia next year?
Missing you and feeling happy,
It cracked us up. How did he find her e-mail? Can this Julie somehow read Khmer? Is Somet even sure that she's coming to his country? It was definitely livelier than the "pen pal" e-mails I always find in high school language textbooks.
I asked the teacher, "How would you feel if you received a message like this?" Her reply? "Oh, it's common. Male Cambodian strangers often write on Facebook, telling me and my friends that we're beautiful and asking if we have a boyfriend." Hmm. That hasn't been my experience, and I'm really OK with that.
Our homework was to write Julie's reply to Somet. I did my best to answer his questions and use some recent vocab (bolded) but I couldn't resist the urge to create a plot twist, loosely inspired by James Veitch.
Hello! I was very happy to read your e-mail. I think that you are handsome and around age 25. As for me, I'm 45. My profile picture is old. I'm an only child and a widow with five children. The police in America believe that I killed my husband last year. Ever since then, I've been in hiding in various countries. I heard that Cambodia is not very strict with foreign criminals. Would you like to marry me and live in a remote village, far from the police? I hope you'll agree. I probably won't kill you like my first husband. Sorry Somet! I'm just kidding. Don't take it the wrong way. Please send me $6000 so I can buy plane tickets for all six of us to meet you in Siem Reap next year. Thanks!
Missing you and feeling happy,
I'm not sure my teacher will appreciate it (they say humor is the hardest thing to translate) but it certainly improved my motivation in writing.
(Update: She got a good laugh out of it. She enjoyed my classmates' responses too!)
The ironic thing is that this afternoon, unaware of this assignment, my tutor asked me about a Facebook message she'd received. "It's from an American guy that I don't know. He says I'm beautiful and he's in love with me. What should I tell him?" The message (in English) was very gushy and very general. I was pretty sure the next message would say, "Can you please send me money?" I advised her to ignore it: advice she'd also heard from her son and neighbor. (Though, come to think of it, maybe I should have asked if she'd like to reuse my reply?)
Oh, social media. Making the world smaller - by enabling people to flirt, stalk, and bilk across international borders.